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Marion settlement known as 'Little Russia' housed locals and refugees
by DJ Kauffman Correspondent · January 11th, 2018

There were no street lights in "Little Russia" as it was called; only a long, dark, and eerie gravel road leading to a mysterious "Boo Radley" type settlement nestled between Marion's Thomas Park and the former Ce-Mar Acres. According to a former tenant, "not all of the families living there were refugees; maybe only two or three."

The first home in the area was a two-story with a front porch supported only by dirt. "The legs ran into the dirt. There was not much grass, but a lot of dirt," she said. And, even though the home had no sidewalk and needed to be repainted white, it was very clean and dry, recalls the native-born American.

"We could afford to live there. We didn't have much money, and he (her husband) was working on the railroad then. It was dry and the furnace worked [well]; that was necessary at the time with four kids. It was not easy, except we had a roof over our head, that was it," she added.

Moreover, while her husband was away at work, she said she had no transportation and remembers quickly locking her doors as she was left alone, for it was safer in the neighborhood with locked doors. And, it was really quiet except for when she could hear cars racing at a nearby track.

Additionally, the woman told a story about how her son and a neighbor girl took a cab to and from school each day. She said her boy once found a stray cat and persuaded the driver to transport "Baby" home with him.

Then, after a few years of being a stay-at-home mom, she said she finally got a job at Collins Radio and rode with her financially destitute neighbor (a single mom with two girls) to work each day in an old car that used so much oil, nearby filling station owners would save and give her used oil for free.

A family of four living upstairs from her came to America from war-torn Latvia with two teenage sons. The woman babysat for our interviewee while she was at work, and the Latvian husband was a very smart electrical engineer, she said.

The Latvian wife who spoke with very broken English was extremely afraid of the police, and seldom, if ever, came out of her apartment, the woman said. She also remembers her Latvian neighbor explaining how they had to hide out while fleeing for their lives before coming to this country.

The woman from Latvia was very clean and a good cook, the former tenant recalls. Also, the two Latvian teens once put the young American boy's bicycle on a roof. After explaining the matter to the boys' parents, the former tenant said they had no problems with them afterward.

Our interviewee also told of another foreigner who lived down the hill, who put nails in an old tire and placed it on the roadside; so when someone would drive down the lane, their tires would pop. She said she does not, however, recall how the situation was remedied.

Bill Huntoon, a former teacher and native Marionite who pointed out the historical housing location to us, said he still remembers the creepy feeling he felt one night when he gave a resident living there a ride home.

Huntoon explained how the community's scattered homes were not built on site but were moved to the area by the former landowner, a Presbyterian lay preacher and Cedar Rapids Attorney Dwight Krumboltz.

A Junior League of Cedar Rapids Oral History Project (pdf), dated March 11, 1985, includes an interview of Margaret Krumboltz, wife of Dwight Krumboltz, by Judy Maples. [Krumbotz, Margaret - The History Center]

Margaret answered one question by saying, "We were very much interested in the problem of refugees in Europe at the time after the - was it the Second Word War - yes, it was the Second War - and we had sponsored, our church had sponsored some people from other countries."

According to Mrs. Krumboltz, they first hosted Czechs, Hungarians, and others, before sponsoring a Latvian family. "When they arrived on a Sunday afternoon, there was a father and a mother and their two sons. They arrived with three suitcases, one of which contained all books, and we had them for the evening or late afternoon after they got here; and I wanted to serve them ice cream and cake."

Margaret explained how although the day was hot, the Latvian mother would not let her children eat the ice cream for fear it would make them sick. She also said the family stayed in a Cedar Rapids hotel for about a week when the boys contracted "either measles or chicken pox" and "Dr. Block came and took care of them."

Afterwards, Margaret said her husband procured a home for the Latvian family on their Marion acreage. "They (the Latvian couple) lived there for 25 years. The man got a job with Cherry Burrell and they really did quite well. Their two sons grew up in the schools in Marion but later wouldn't join the Army. They fled to Canada."

According to his record, Dwight Krumboltz died in 1964, and subsequently, his family's Marion property was sold to a developer.

A Gazette article dated June 1, 1980, entitled "Bulldozers signal end of 'Little Russia'," by Tom Fruehling, says the unassuming Marion neighborhood died that weekend, and remaining families were displaced before scheduled demolition was set to take place. The woman from Latvia told the reporter how "It used to be very nice here and lovely. But we have no choice (but to move)."

This is the second part of Marion's history series written by DJ Kauffman with information provided by Bill Huntoon.
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